Tuesday, July 31, 2012

When the Hare becomes the Tortoise: Why Procrastination is Okay Sometimes

So I never procrastinate…Okay, that's not quite true—anytime I use "never" or "always", I know its not quite true. I sometimes procrastinate—there, that's a little more accurate, probably more so when I was younger.  In junior high, I used put off doing my French homework so I could work on my English essays. In high school, I worked on my History paper rather than working on my chemistry assignment. And now, I choose to edit my manuscript instead of completing my yoga teacher training homework.

But lately I've been wondering if this pattern can really be considered procrastination. I mean, I always got my homework done on time, usually early, in fact. I just did it in the order that I wanted to, rather than getting all the boring, hard work done first. And then recently, just the past few years, I decided that there was something wrong with this attitude, that I should more be "responsible" and do things the "right" way, whatever that was. So I started doing the hard tasks first, adopting a "first work, then play" attitude. And more recently, just two month ago, I realized I had made a mistake.

It all started with summer, I swear. The sun came out and all I wanted to do was play, play on my computer, play with my dog, play outside, play inside, play at work—I wanted to play everywhere I went. And while it's not hard for me to relate with most tasks as play, I, like all of us, still have hum-drum tasks that I have attend to, like my yoga teacher training homework.

You see, this was the first time I've ever had "homework" in the summer, and I, like a rebellious teenager, did not want to do it. In the past, I would have gotten it done the day after it was assigned, but now, I was in quite a conundrum: I wanted to do other things instead. And then I had to ask myself, was it a bad thing to do my homework two weeks before it was due rather than a month before it was due?

And the answer I came up with was no, it wasn't a bad thing. In fact, it was good thing. It means that I'm learning how to relax, how to have a better work/play balance, acknowledging that for everything there is a season and the season of summer is play. It's not about work then play or play then work, its about working when you need to work and playing when you need to play. As a kid, I knew that, lived by that, but now, as an adult, I got caught up in trying to be the hare when, in fact, right now, I'd rather be the turtle.

So if you're like me–zoom, zoom, zoom, always on the go, always on the ball, always getting things done – try a little experiment. Let the ball slide a little, don't drop it completely, but see what happens if you don't catch it right away. The sun did not come crashing into the earth because I didn't do my homework immediately, and chances are it won't if you relax a little, too. Even though, technically its considered procrastination, in moderation, its good for you, like a glass of red wine or a piece of dark chocolate.

So enjoy your summer. I know I certainly will. :-)

www.knottedwordscelticart.comTwitter: @AngelaDMac, www.angelamackay.com

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Playing Your Way to a Healthy Lifestyle: How to Have Fun, Be Active, and Stick to Your Exercise Regime

So when I broke my arm and sprained my ankle last year, my physical activity level naturally slowed down to match my physical capacity at the time. It wasn't until recently that I realized that even though I am completely healed, I'm still not as active as I had been before my injury. 

Now, I love to move, love to be active and explore my body's limits, but somehow, I had become quite complacent in my more sedentary lifestyle, preferring to knit and watch movies over getting out and getting moving. 

As summer approached, I realized I wanted to do more, move more, to do something outside, but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. And then, at a Roller Derby game, it hit me - I wanted to roller-skate. 

I used to roller-skate as a child and absolutely loved it. At the bold age of nine, I would scout out the longest, flattest, smoothest driveway in the neighbourhood, and then knock on the house adjacent to it. When the door opened, I introduced myself and asked if I could roller-skate in their perfectly groomed driveway. No one ever said no. I would skate for hours and hours on end, loop after loop, until I had to go home for supper.

And so, with fond childhood memories in mind, I bought some skates, really awesome black ones called  "The Urban Roller", with bright green wheels and matching laces, and donning my bike helmet and all the protective gear I thought I would need, I ventured out to the Oval, and skated in circles on the pristinely smooth cement that laid before me.

Round and round, I went, my body surprisingly remembering how to skate after 25 years of not having four wheels precariously placed under my feet. Listening to Bob Marley, and sweating up a storm, I remembered why I loved to skate as a child. I was enjoying it so much didn't want to stop, but alas, I had to go home to get ready for work.

And now, a month later, I can't wait to go roller-skating! I curse the rain that interferes with my fun just as I had done as a child.

While roller-skating is great exercise, it is not the thought of burning calories that keeps me going round and round. It is the experience in my body, the burn in my legs, the smooth feeling of my feet rolling over space and time, the heat in my cheeks, and the light, joyful that sensation that fills my heart.

And that made me wonder, why do I sometimes struggle to be physically active as adult, when being active came so naturally to me when I was a child?

In reflecting on my experience with roller-skating, I came up with a few ideas about what makes for an addictive exercise experience:

  • Engage in physical activities that you think are fun, the key words here being "you" and "fun". Don't do what your mother thinks is fun, or what your friends think is fun, or your even what your psychologist thinks is fun. If you think it's fun, then you'll look forward to doing it, you'll be excited to do it, and most importantly, you'll actually do it.
  • Approach the activity as play, not as goal-oriented activity. As a kid, did you say to yourself, "Okay, I'm going to roller-skate for at least an hour so I can burn at least 600 calories?" No! We played for play's sake, because the experience in and of itself was satisfying. We did not have any sense of an attachment to a specific outcome, like flat abs or buns of steel. So let go of your ideas of calories, and muscle tone, and just enjoy the confidence, energy, and joy that naturally comes from being fit and active.
  • Mix it up. As a kid, did you just do one thing, the same thing every day of the summer? No! We played hopscotch and jumped rope. We played lawn darts, racket-ball, and with hula hoops. We climbed monkey bars, and swung on swings, explored the woods, and scrambled up trees. So do a bunch of fun things and explore your body in different ways, rather than getting stuck in the same old routine at the gym. 
  • Remember what "fun" feels like. Be present in your body when you're moving. Notice how your body feels before, during, and after the activity. It is that positive body memory that keeps us going back for more.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The River of Energy: How to Get Out of Anxiety's Fast Current or Depression's Deep Stagnation and Get Back into the Flow of your Life

So, this metaphor is totally cliche, but it works, and that's why I use it. I feel a bit like Forrest Gump saying this, but here goes:

Your energy is a River, like this River.

When it's flowing smoothly and moving along, that's when we feel energized, grounded, strong, and happy. But when we get going too fast, doing too much, our minds and bodies spin out of control, floating too high towards the surface of the river and we experience anxiety and stress.

And when we are moving too slow, dragging our feet in the flow of life, like heavy sediment and river debris, we sink to the bottom, stuck in the drudge of despair, lethargy, and depression.

In order to get out of the state of imbalance and confusion, we must figure out where we are in the river.

Those stuck at the bottom of the river need to gather gumption and momentum in order to get out of the mud and back into the flow of their lives.  People who are depressed need to move and move as fast as they can; running, hiking, biking, rock-climbing and more are some of the things that can you out of the mud. But getting out of the mud and into the flow is just the first step, the hardest step of the process.

Secondly, we must figure out ways to stay in the flow throughout our day and to notice when we are starting to sink back down into the mud. Walking to work, walking on lunch breaks, stretching at your desk, eating regularly, and drinking lots of water are all ways to stay in the flow. But move too much,
and we might get anxious.

And if we get caught in the rapids of anxiety, we need to slow down and float for a while. We need to sit still, get a massage, meditate, read a book, have a cup of tea or just take a break to let our hearts and minds slow down to their natural pace, not a rushed one we are imposing on them. But again, that is just the first step.

We must then figure out what we need to do every day to slow ourselves down, things like doing less at work and home and having smaller "to do" lists, and more "to be" lists.

Once you notice where you are in the River, you'll have a general idea of how to work with your energy to get back into the flow and ease of your life.

Speed up or slow down? What do you need to do right now?


Monday, June 11, 2012

My Birthday Celebration/Death Contemplation: Contemplating Death in Order to Celebrate Life

So my 36th birthday was just a few days ago.  I took the day off, with several things on my list of fun things to do to celebrate, including a morning of wandering and taking pictures, first of flowers in the Public Gardens and then gravestones in Camphill Cemetery.

Why, you might ask, would I want to visit a cemetery on my birthday? Well, let me tell you a little story about that. I have always loved walking in cemeteries, even as young child, and most certainly as a teenager, when I was completely obsessed with Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. I have always experienced a sense of spaciousness among the silent, falling gravestones, a serenity that confirms my hope that the Dead do, in fact, rest in peace.

I grew up near a graveyard, and would frequently walk there, wandering in and out of the granite headstones, tiptoeing in between the grass-covered footstones, trying very hard not to walk over the actual graves themselves – it seemed disrespectful to the Dead, somehow, to step over them while they slept. 

As I grew up and travelled abroad, I continued to journey to wherever people remembered their Dead: the old graveyards of Scotland where the rich, dense moss clung to the gravestones like a second skin; the haunting, stone memorials that depicted the emaciated prisoners of Buchenwald, a concentration camp in Germany; the Killing Fields of Cambodia, where a towering glass monument showcases the skulls of those lost in Pol Pot Regime – a place where hundreds of tiny, yellow and white butterflies gather to offer solace and comfort to those who come to remember the horrors of war and genocide.

As I walked through Camphill Cemetery, taking photographs of the markers of lives lost, I remembered these places and the bittersweet feelings I felt when I had there - the heartache of sorrow and the joy and appreciation of being alive. I reminded myself, that I, too, shall die, and I, too, shall be nothing more in this world than a name written on a stone. 

And even though it seems like a depressing thing to think about on one’s birthday, it is the truth, and it’s a relief for me to acknowledge that. There is a sense of liberation that can only come from calling a spade a spade. When I acknowledge the path that lies ahead for me - suffering, old age, sickness, and death - the realities of the human condition – it reminds me of why I need to pay attention to my life right now, in this very moment, cherish my loved ones, and appreciate my health while I still have it. 

As I left Camphill and went for lunch, the words of John McCrae floated through my head. You may not know his name, but I’ll bet you know the poem he is most known for, for we all had to memorize his haunting words in elementary school:

We are the Dead. Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
loved and were loved and now we lie
in Flanders fields.
It is said in the Buddhist teachings that death comes suddenly and without warning. And with that thought to contemplate, I ate my birthday lunch – a lovely avocado melt and scrumptious chocolate brownie. With my own mortality in mind, I continued on with my birthday celebrations - a peaceful nap, an invigorating yoga class with a live drummer, and Thai take-out with my darling husband. It was a lovely day to be alive.

© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, Angela Dawn MacKay 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Procrastinating the Positive: Explorations on Why We Don't Do the Things We Love to Do

So, I was looking at the date of my last blog post and I realized it has been five whole months since I have written. Five months! How did that happen?

I love blogging, I really do. And yet, somehow, I didn't do it. And then I have to ask myself, "Why? Why didn't I do something that I love for so long?"

I mean, I could make excuses, some really good ones, too. I was editing a manuscript. I was taking art classes. I updated my website. These are all valid reasons for not blogging, and yet still, they don't seem adequate.

While I don't want to be hard on myself for not writing, I do want to explore why I didn't write so that I don't do it again. Why wouldn't I take the time to do something I love to do?

As near as I can remember the first thing that happened was that I just didn't post for a week or two. "Oh, I'll do that later," I said to myself, "I need to focus on my manuscript right now." Well, "later" turned into several months, which was not my intention at all.

After not posting for so long, I then completely forgot about my blog. How could you have forgotten about your blog, you might ask? The answer is, I don't know, but I guess I must have. I just forgot I had one, forgot it was something I used to like to do.

The next question I have to ask myself is, "How did I come to remember my blog?" Well, I updated my website, which has a link to my blog and then it came to my awareness that a) I had a blog, and b) I hadn't posted in five months. And then I remembered how much I loved blogging, how excited I was when I started the blog, and that was when I renewed my commitment to writing posts.

And so now, after careful exploration, I have discovered a few things that might help me blog more regularly, and I will share them with you, my dear readers:

  • Set a Specific Intention: Note that I used the word "intention", not "goal". And so my intention is to write a blog post weekly, which does not mean I will actually write weekly, just that I intent to. And to even be more specific, I hereby declare Monday as Blog Day, a great way to start the week.
  • Write That Intention Down and Tell Others About it: In writing it down and having others bear witness to it, you are more likely to follow through. That was my mistake before – I had always planned to write weekly, but I didn't tell any one about my intention, and so I was not accountable to anyone, and so had no reason to follow through. In announcing my commitment to my blog to my readers, I already feel more committed because I like to keep my promises. And so if I said I would blog weekly, by Golly, I will.
  • Be Gentle When the Intention Doesn't Lead to Action: Being hard on yourself isn't actually that motivating – it is gentleness that eases us back into action. And so if I don't blog one Monday, I don't have to beat myself up – I can commit to blogging on another day that week, or if that's not possible, give myself permission to skip a week and blog on the following Monday.
  • Remember Why You Want to Do It: When we can connect with our motivation of why we want to engage in a certain activity, it is much easier to remember that we want to do it, not that we have to. It was my fond memories of the experience of blogging that brought me back to post. We have to remember why we want to do the things we love to do. For me, I love writing things and letting them go, knowing that anyone in the world could read them. I love feeling connected with clients outside of sessions, offering my writings as a way to support others when they are not in my office. And I just love plain old' writing, that's really the heart of it. 
And so with that said, I'll see you next Monday. Or not. :-)

© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, Angela Dawn MacKay 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Red-Eyed Multi-blob Monster: The Wisdom of the Inner Critic

  Once upon a time, in land not so far away, the land of your dreams, nightmares, and darkest secrets, there was a monster. And not just any monster, but a red-eyed multi-blob monster. Now, you may never have heard of the red-eyed multi-blob monster, but that doesn’t mean he does exist. 
He hides under doorways, waiting to grab your feet. He hides in the fridge while you look for something to eat, He hides in the shower, deep down in the drain, but he hides in the toilet when it starts to rain.
He’ll hide in your ear when your trying to talk, yelling sarcastically, always read to mock. He swims in your stomach like an eel in a moat, waiting to criticize something you wrote. He lurks in the darkness, always ready to find something wrong with you or your writing, stealing your peace of mind.
Does he seem familiar now, now that I’ve described him?
Maybe you know him by a different name, but he is the red-eyed multi-blob monster just the same. The critic, the judge, the hangman, the gunner – he’s just so mean it makes you wonder, why he’s there at all, why we bother to listen to that monster in the dark – he’s got no wisdom!
Or does he?
        Well, I do suppose, he's got lots of eyes, and those things swimming towards him, they are his spies. They swim through the world, peeking around, checking it out, peeking around without making a sound. They come back to report, tell him what they’ve seen, what they’ve heard, and where they’ve been. And then the monster eats them, eats them alive, taking in all that they were, though they struggle to survive. They wriggle and wiggle and yelp, and cry, just moments before they keel over and die. And then the monster, his belly full of information, stews and thinks, and performs a little divination, predicating how things will turn out, telling you what’s wrong without a doubt. 
         But then, I say, he takes it too far, like guessing how many jelly beans are stuck in a jar. It’s just a guess based on what his spies have seen, but we believe what he says, no matter how mean, or untrue it may be or unhelpful it is, maybe the monster should just mind his own biz!
But wait, maybe there’s wisdom in there yet. What if he could just see without saying a word, notice how things are without giving a blurb. Ahh, yes, that would do it, to see but not to say, and then without judgement, and without dismay, we can fix our mistakes and learn from them well, instead of cursing and swearing and starting to yell:
“I’m stupid! I suck! I’m no good at all! An artist? No! A writer? No – not at all!”
Ahh, yes, it’s the eyes of the monster that allow us to see, but his teeth, oh they give us such misery. So let his teeth go, let go of the sting and the bite, and then finally you’ll be able to write, at least the first draft, but then bring his teeth back, for they’ll be ready to have a snack, to chomp on your grammar, your spelling mistakes, and more – ah yes, I’ve got it – that’s what the monster is for!
And so, by golly, I think that I have finally made friends with the red-eyed multi-blob monster, oh yes, I can say that I have – no longer afraid of that voice in my head, the voice that tells me it's all wrong – in fact, it's that voice, in the end, that makes my writing solid and strong.